As a child, I only ever tasted cooked supermarket beetroot. It was always a bit soggy and sour, and made all that touched it bright pink. Suffice to say, it was not my favourite. But as a grown-up vegetable fancier, I find my love for beetroot is constantly expanding. I’ve come to appreciate its earthy sweetness, and I adore the colours and tastes of the more unusual varieties, such as ‘Choggia’, with its concentric circles of magenta and white, or golden beetroot, which is a bright, warm yellow in appearance and flavour. You can also eat the highly nutritious leaves, although take only a few at a time or your beetroot plant will stop growing.
Timing You can sow beetroot seeds indoors from early spring, plant them out 4–6 weeks later and harvest by early summer. Sow seeds every few weeks if you have the space, for a regular supply. Seeds sown in mid summer will yield roots that can be kept into winter, as long as they’re harvested and stored before the first frost.
Getting started Beetroot seeds benefit from being soaked before sowing so put your seeds in a glass of water for 24 hours. Plant a couple of seeds in each module, as they grow well in a little group. Each seed is actually a cluster of seeds with the potential to produce a few germinated seedlings, so thin the bunch down to four or five strong plants while they’re still small. You can also sow directly into the final container. If you’ve used modules, transplant the seedlings while they’ve got two sets of leaves per plant: they won’t appreciate being moved once they’re bigger.
Container Beetroot doesn’t need a huge container, and you can plant one cluster of seedlings in a 5-litre pot with a diameter of 22cm. If you grow the plants close together, you will still get a harvest but the roots will be on the small side.
Water It’s important not to let your beetroot plants dry out or their roots will become woody, so be generous when you water, especially in hot, dry weather.
Light Beetroot grows best in a sunny position, but it can tolerate some shade as long as it has had a strong start in life, with adequate light.
Feeding Beetroots are vigorous growers and will benefit from feeding when grown in pots. A fortnightly feed of liquid seaweed or comfrey will support the plants to grow and roots to develop.
Your first beetroot harvest can arrive as early as two months after sowing, when the root is the size of a golf ball. At this stage you can also harvest the leaves and cook them as you would spinach. These early harvests will be the sweetest and most tender. Gently twist off the largest roots and leave the remaining ones to keep growing, harvesting them as you want to eat them. Just don’t let them get much larger than a tennis ball, or they’ll be tough and less delicious.
Laura Bernard works from her cosy studio in Wellington, New Zealand. She is a self-confessed nerd, homebody and introvert. Laura has inspired young creatives across the world to ignore the negativity that surrounds a career in illustration and to pursue their passion.
To celebrate the release of Wonder Women Bingo, we caught up with Laura to chat about the game, the female creatives she looks up to and how to stay sane when your home sanctuary becomes your workplace.
The illustrations for Wonder Women Bingo are phenomenal. What was your favourite part of working on this project? Thank you! My favourite part was adding the finer detail to the garments and accessories that the women were wearing: the jewellery, the beaded and embroidered elements and the various patterns. That was so much fun. I feel like that’s one of the main elements that brings these ladies to life and makes them each unique.
Why do you think it’s important to have a children’s game dedicated to inspirational women? Too often we are taught the names of famous, genius, amazing men that have achieved great things (Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking, Nikola Tesla to name a few). I think we often forget that there were incredible women who did equally amazing things, but we are rarely taught about them in the same way due to our unbalanced gendered history. Plus, a lot of women had to keep their intelligence a secret or pretend to be a man to be recognised. I think we need a game like this to help balance things out. Hopefully, it can inspire young women and teach them that they can be anything they want to be.
Laurence King Publishing is fortunate to work with a number of fantastic female illustrators like yourself, including Laura Callaghan, Marion Deuchars and Harriet Lee-Merrion. Can you tell us about the female illustrators and creatives that inspire you? Creatively, I look up to Rebecca Sugar a lot. She created the Steven Universe series and creatively directed a lot of the character design, screenplay and music. She also worked on Adventure Time for a long while. I also admire Jennifer Lee, who is a screenwriter and a head creative at Disney studios. She worked on Frozen and Frozen 2, which are masterpieces for character, background, outfit and song design (all things she helped with).
As a freelancer, do you have any tips for staying sane when working from home? I think we need all the tips we can get right about now! To be honest, being an introvert really helps. I can’t speak for more extroverted people but I love hibernating and working on my illustration. Working and living in the same space can be a huge challenge, so I do have one very helpful tip. I have a studio for my work, and when I am in there I am in ‘work mode’, when I am anywhere else in the house I’m in ‘home mode’. I’ve always used this mentality even before I had a studio and I worked at the dining room table. I would always sit on one chair and work so then that particular space is associated with working. I think that’s a super important thing to define when working from home as too often we work from bed or the couch, which I try to avoid.
Any tips for overcoming creative block? Oh jeez, this is a hard one. Over the past five or so years that I’ve been freelancing, and where my creativity is my job, there’s that extra pressure to be creative ALL THE TIME. When I’m at a total creative loss and I’ve gone into a creative depression, I generally have a lot of negativity about my own work. I’ve realised that my creative block generally looks and feels the same: a lot of self doubt and self creative pessimism. If I’m telling myself all of these terrible things about my own work, putting it down and comparing it to others, how can I feel proud and happy with the work I’m making? To help break the cycle, I’ll go back to my old sketchbooks from yonks ago and see how far I’ve come. I’ll also look at all of my old random ideas and concepts to give myself a much needed pep talk: Look! These are your ideas and you are creative and awesome! I will then try and learn from my past works and ideas. I think it’s very important to be critical of your own work otherwise you will struggle to grow, but balancing that with self support, encouragement and feeling proud of yourself too.
We can see that you paint in both a traditional medium and digital. Do you prefer one over the other? I fell in love with watercolour quite quickly after buying my first set when I was about nineteen. I think it will always be very special to me. I then transitioned into digital to broaden my skillset and I thought it would help me find more illustrating opportunities too, as we live in such a digital age. I think watercolour will always be my favourite medium, however I find digital has helped me grow and learn more as a creative — it’s a very forgiving medium and you are able to undo, flip canvases to check proportions, and change colours so easily: all things that you can’t really do with a traditional medium.
We are obsessed with all the work in your portfolio. Can you tell us about your favourite one? Thank you so much! From my personal works, there’s an illustration of an A-frame house among some trees at night. I am super proud of this and the simplicity of it, but the fact that it still tells a story — a difficult balance. Professionally, I absolutely loved working on the Wonder Women Happy Families card game, and the Wonder Women Bingo. Learning about amazing women in history and having the opportunity to paint their portraits was so inspiring.
About to publish her third book, creative catalyst Paulina Larocca is one of the most driven, passionate and motivated authors you’ll ever meet. Her previous books on creativity can be found in homes, offices and classrooms across the globe, and we think her new book The Holey Bibleis the best one yet. We caught up with Paulina to talk about creative enlightenment, the new book and the all-important year that has been 2020.
What exactly do you mean when you use the term ‘creative enlightenment’? Creative enlightenment is a term I created based on my personal experiences and struggles with the creative process. Let’s face it, creative thinking is messy work and you must have an enormous amount of courage, belief and persistence for real breakthroughs to occur. The creative process can seem punishing, especially when you are in the weeds looking for a way out, but when you get to a resolution you experience a flood of relief and euphoria; you experience what I call creative enlightenment. For each person, the experience will be different but the result will be the same. You have a new direction and a new purpose that creates a deeper meaning in your life and your work. You are permanently transformed. It may feel like hell going through it, but it’s heavenly when it’s done.
What benefits will living a more creatively enlightened life have for those who don’t consider themselves creative or who don’t have a creative job? That is the sad irony about creativity – it’s sold to us as something we either have or don’t have. We are all creative. Our brain is active during both wakefulness and sleep and is constantly imagining. Our minds are phenomenal storytellers, constantly constructing meaning from our environment. I think of creativity as a divine force that is present in each of us and plays a much bigger role in all our lives than we tend to realise. It is the engine of our mind, the author of our story and is responsible for how we identify ourselves – it is creativity that determines how you define ‘me’. You may not nurture it, you may not notice it, but creativity is the driving force of your life, so it pays to consider what kind of fuel you are putting in your tank. My mission is to help everyone cultivate an awareness of their creativity and learn to use it. That way, it can serve a higher purpose for each and every one of you.
The Holey Bible – what’s the message behind the title? The title came about because we wanted to help people easily spot the holes in their thinking. We wanted to use the term bible, not in the religious sense but in the colloquial sense of a guide. The title tends to stop people in their tracks, so it’s a way of shaking things up – it’s almost as if you get an experience of the book from the title.
The cover is so striking. Can you tell us about those design choices – the bold font, the bright yellow and the upside-down type? Well, with a name like The Holey Bible you cannot afford to be shy. We want to celebrate the creative spirit and yellow and black are great colours for that. Throughout the book we use bright colours. For those who know about printing, we use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) for four colour processing printing. They’re colours that ignite creativity and get the brain buzzing. The rest of the design and images were a very deliberate choice to keep the reader emotionally engaged and surprise them every time they turn the page.
This is your third book in three years. What drives you to write books rather than use another medium of storytelling? Books are incredibly hard work and I sometimes wonder why I keep going back. They are wonderful vehicles for distilling your ideas into cohesive thoughts and the format forces you to do the work – it’s not just a few paragraphs dashed off for an Instagram post. Plus, having a publishing deadline ensures that even if you want to slack off, you can’t. A well-written book makes everything you do – speaking, blogs, social media – so much easier. But there’s no doubt about it, writing a book feels like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen – scary and exhausting.
Some might argue that this is a tough time to publish a book. Why do you think that 2020 is the year for The Holey Bible? Why do we need this book now? I think this pandemic has forced all of us to rethink what’s important, what are we doing with our lives and what we need to change. It hasn’t been pleasant, but it has forced us to re-evaluate things we took for granted as being ‘just the way things are around here’ and deeply question them. There is no better time for a book that makes you question your assumptions and help you create new patterns of thought that may serve you better. If you are questioning anything or any aspect of your life, then don’t hesitate to pick up The Holey Bible. It will help you live your best life, which, let’s face it, is a creative life on your terms. Who could ask for more?
By now, many of us have completed a back-breaking 1000-piece puzzle, tried our hand at something creative and baked our first (or tenth) loaf of bread.
We put a call-out on social media asking what sourdough issues you were facing and collated our top FAQs. Now, we sit down with sourdough expert and author of How to Raise a Loaf, Roly Allen, to have your questions answered.
What is the difference between bread flour and plain flour? Bread flour has a higher protein content – around 13% is typical. These proteins (specifically, glutiens) are collectively known as gluten and, because they are looooooong molecules, they hold the dough together, making it stretchier, tighter and able to hold bubbles. That’s why you need bread flour for bread. Plain flour has less gluten. Otherwise they are the same.
I feel like my bread is really dense. What do I need to do to my starter for it to be light and fluffy? It might not just be the starter, but assuming it is, I find that starters get better the more often that you use them and refresh them. If I bake three or four days running, the starter seems to get bubblier and bubblier. If my starter has just been refreshed once, after spending a period of downtime in the fridge, then things can be flat.
What is the maximum amount of time you can keep your starter in the fridge without feeding it? Tricky one. I’ve heard tell of a starter that was successfully refreshed after several years dormancy in the back of the fridge, but I’d personally not leave it longer than a couple of weeks. If I knew that my starter would be going a long time unfed, I would make a flourier mixture (less water), which will slow everything down. I would definitely give a dormant starter a couple of refresh-discard cycles for it to get its strength back up before baking.
I learned that the word ‘crumb’ describes the inside of the bread from your book, which is interesting. Despite using a white flour but still can’t achieve the open crumb that I want. Any tips? Try a mix with slightly more water and an overnight (or ‘retarded’) prove in the fridge. You mix and work the dough in the evening, and let it prove slowly at low temperature before baking in the morning. That might do it!
I normally don’t eat white bread. I’ll always choose a wholemeal or multigrain. Do you recommend always starting with a white loaf first because it’s the easiest, or do you think jumping straight into wholemeal is achievable? It is definitely easier to get a white loaf to rise and have an open crumb. That said, I really like denser brown breads myself and, if that’s what you like, I would just go ahead and start with them. Practice makes perfect, no matter what colour your loaf is.
Cooking time — dutch oven lid on for 45 mins and lid off for the final 15. Do you approve? If it works for you, then yes!
What does adding a source of steam mean? I just have a regular fan-forced oven and no fancy equipment. What are some ways that I can easily add steam? It is essential, but easy – just put a cup of hot water into an oven dish in the hot oven before you put the loaf in. The steam stops the crust from setting hard before the middle of the loaf has baked.
I just learned that you can overproof dough. Anything else we might not know about sourdough? Salt is absolutely essential, and not just for taste. The salt works on a chemical level with the gluten to help the crumb form. If you forget to add salt, or don’t add enough, you get something that doesn’t taste, or look, that good. I’ve learned this the hard way.
What do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they try to make their first loaf? I can’t speak for everyone, but the mistake I made was leaving the dough to prove for too long. This means that the dough pancakes out and you get a discus-shaped loaf that’s really dense. You need to get that dough into the oven while it’s still nice and springy to the touch.
What are your favourite toppings for freshly baked sourdough? For breakfast: butter and apricot jam; for lunch, cheese and pickle; with dinner, butter or olive oil. If it’s toasted then it’s Marmite every time (Marmite is similar to Vegemite, but delicious).
There are so many types of bread. Why do you think sourdough is such a craze? Two reasons. Firstly, it’s a reaction against industrially-produced food. Sourdough bread is traditional, it doesn’t have additives, and you can tell that from how it tastes. Secondly, we are only now starting to understand how important our gut biomes are to our overall health – not just to our digestion. The lacto-bacteria that make sourdough taste slightly sour seem (don’t ask me for the detail!) to have a really positive effect in that department.
After a term of homeschooling, the last thing you’re thinking about is setting another homework task, putting aside time for learning or trying to stretch out that 45 minute activity that your sweet angel completed in less than ten minutes.
For those times when you can’t possibly open up another teacher-resource, we have you covered; welcome to parents’ notes.
What are parents’ notes?
Our parents’ notes are just like teachers’ notes, but without the emphasis on learning. Parents’ notes are about inspiring conversation.
The best thing about our parents’ notes is that you don’t need any extra resources and you don’t need to buy the book. Everything you need is included on one page — the questions, the book’s cover and any other helpful illustrations.
We’ve put together parents’ notes for three of our best-selling Laurence King Publishing titles, one for each age group. You can download your parents notes here on our activity page.
Trying to figure out how to make the most of your time at home? Environmental activist and author of How to Save the World for Free Natalie Fee says it’s the perfect time to reset some of our routines and make small changes to encourage more environmentally friendly behaviour.
Don’t waste water
With all this extra hand washing, we’re using a lot more water. Keep a bowl in your sink to catch the water as you wash your hands then use it to water your plants. Or with all that extra time on your sparkling (er, dry and cracked?) hands, add a bit of tea tree oil to it to wash your floors. When it comes to the loo, if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.
Additionally, when making those never-ending cups of tea, make sure to only boil what you need, as kettles use up a serious amount of energy. If you forget and overfill the kettle, stick the rest in a hot water bottle or in a flask for herbal tea later in the day.
Take up cycling
If you’re avoiding public transport and tempted to jump in your car, don’t! If you’re physically able, get on your bike instead. Cycling is the perfect way to stay fit, get some fresh air and do some low-key, local shopping.
Take the time to research greener options
If you’ve got some ‘white space’ in your diary, block some time out to actually do some online switching of your heat or personal finances services. Switch to an ethical bank, a green energy provider, an earth friendly loo paper or a conscious laundry detergent.
Keep the heat off
As the days start to get colder, consider layering up to stay warm instead of whacking the heating on. Put some tights on under your jeans and wear a beanie or warm hat (maybe not when on Zoom or Skype, unless it’s a good look for you).
Don’t waste electricity
If your home has enough natural light for you to work, don’t turn your lights on during the day. Remember to switch off your electricals at the socket at night to save energy and money. And you’ll probably sleep better with the WiFi off anyway. “Alexa, stop listening to my conversations and using a crapload of data to do it”.
There’s no better time to settle in to the ultimate, feel-good luxury of making homemade bread, and this Speckled Beetroot Sourdough is worth settling in to.
Whilst all the recipes in How to Raise a Loaf are suitable for beginners, this recipe should be attempted once you’ve already made your first basic loaf. The recipe for a basic loaf, as well as kneading and folding tutorials, are all included in How to Raise a Loaf. You’ll also find a step-by-step guide to making and using your starter. Head over to Laurence King’s Instagram story here to watch how we make our starter.
Speckled Beetroot Sourdough
With a distinctive appearance and earthy aroma, this is a real show-stopper, and a perfect, hearty accompaniment to winter soups or stews. Beetroots are a rich source of antioxidants, and also give the dough an unforgettable pink colour, which fades in the oven, leaving speckles in a classic open crumb.
· 200g starter · 10ml (2 tsp) olive oil · 180ml warm water · 340g strong white bread flour · 7.5g (1½ tsp) fine salt · 150g fresh beetroot, peeled and coarsely grated · rice flour or semolina, for dusting
1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the starter, olive oil and warm water together until the starter has dissolved.
2. In another bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Add this to the wet mixture and mix well with your hand, then add the grated beetroot and mix until the beetroot is evenly distributed. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
3. Wet your hands, then pull, fold and rotate the dough 8—10 times, so that it forms a ball. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
4. Repeat Step 3 twice so that you’ve worked the dough three times and it has rested for a hour in total.
5. Dust a proving basket liberally with rice flour or semolina. Wet your fingers, work them around the bottom of the ball of dough and gently transfer it to the proving basket, keeping the seam upwards.
6. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove. Depending on the temperature and the activity of the yeast, it may take three to six hours to gain about 50 per cent in size.
7. When the loaf has proved, preheat the oven to 230°C (210°C fan)/gas mark 8, with a heavy baking tray or baking stone on the middle shelf, and add a source of steam. Turn the loaf out of the proving basket onto the heated surface, cut it twice across the top with a sharp blade or scissors, then place it in the oven.
8. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 210°C (190°C fan)/gas mark and bake for another 40 minutes, or until the loaf is done and sounds hollow on the base when tapped with a fingertip.
9. Leave to cool on a wire rack before eating.
This is a recipe extract from How to Raise a Loaf, published by Laurence King Publishing, $25, available here.
When My Bedroom is an Office was published in March 2019, we had no idea it would be so relevant over a year later. Now, Joanna Thornhill reminds us that even if your office is just an outdoor table at the end of your bed, it’s still worth making it a space you are happy to spend the day in.
No one wants to stare at a messy workspace at the best of times, least of all when dozing off in bed at the end of the day. But if the bedroom is your only viable space to set up shop, however small the available area, if you’re savvy and organised you can create a spot that functions as a place of productivity without causing nightmares.
For the workspace itself, think about repurposing a piece of furniture that will fit the aesthetic of your bedroom. A bureau or secretaire can work brilliantly, and you can just shut the hatch when you’re not using it. A simple writing desk, console or even small dining table can be a good option, but try to make a raised platform for your monitor (perhaps just a shelf resting on two wooden battens) to ensure that it sits at the correct eye level; you can tuck your keyboard under this when it’s not being used. If your table has no drawers, a basic fabric skirt fixed around the top can hide a multitude of sins, from printers to power cables.
Since space will no doubt be limited, think laterally to make the most of your work nook. If your desk is in an alcove, this can offer the ideal spot to add shelves for storage, but otherwise a ladder-style leaning desk unit may be most efficient, or even a modular shelving system incorporating a desk. Soften the appearance of work paraphernalia such as box files or ring binders by covering them with fabric or wallpaper swatches that tie in with your room decor, and be creative with storage – why not keep archived paperwork in a small vintage suitcase, for example, or stack your printer paper in an old wooden fruit crate?
An ugly office chair will never enhance any bedroom, so consider working from a more visually pleasing dining chair or even a padded stool. If this is your full-time workspace, however, a proper computer chair is best for your body, so shop around for an aesthetically pleasing one (they may be few and far between, but they’re out there). If you’ve already got a bog-standard one, try covering it with a chunky throw when it’s not in use, or make fitted covers in a charming fabric to give it a more homely feel.
If you’re up for a DIY challenge, try converting a cupboard or wardrobe into a bijou office. Add a deep shelf across the whole space at desk height, place additional shelving above for storage, tuck your printer underneath and simply shut the door when you’re done.
Words by Nina Karnikowski, author of Make a Living Living, introduction by Bianca Jafari
Nina Karnikowski is one of Australia’s most loved travel writers. Her career has seen her journeying through Mongolia in ex-Russian military vehicles, exploring the Namibian desert in open-sided safari trucks and dodging icebergs in Antarctica in an icebreaker ship. But, for Nina, travel is more than just a job.
Our adventures (imagined, planned or taken) shape a unique part of who we are. They help form our beliefs, expand our way of thinking and provide endless inspiration. With many of the world’s international borders now closed, there’s no obvious replacement to fill the void. Now, Nina brings us one step closer, taking us on a journey that defies physical boundaries.
Last week, I learned a new word. My mum taught it to me, sending me a BBC article she’d read about something called ‘fernweh’. Call it motherly intuition, but it was the exact word I had been searching for. It means, literally, ‘distance sickening’, and nods to that deep craving we all occasionally have to see far-flung places.
‘What if our lust for travel causes us a deep yearning pain, an ache that reminds us we have to get out and see the world?’ asked the BBC article. ‘What if we’re trapped inside our homes because a virus has taken the Earth and its inhabitants hostage, and we feel despair that we simply cannot travel at all?’
The story was a comfort. Having been a travel writer for the past seven years, visiting a dozen countries a year on assignments covering destinations as diverse as Antarctica, India and Zambia, to Japan, Nepal and Peru, the sudden end to this constant wandering has left me feeling stagnant and uninspired.
Reading about ‘fernweh’, though, reminded me how many other travel-hungry humans are stuck in their homes feeling this very same thing – this growing restlessness, this deep thirst for the exotic and the strange and the extraordinary, that seems increasingly far away with every passing day. Maybe, I’ve been thinking, in the absence of real travel and in the face of this very real crisis, we might need to start escaping for some mind travel occasionally, taking inner journeys in the absence of outer ones.
But how do we plan these inner journeys? Well, I think we start by appealing to our senses. This past week, for example, when an intense craving to visit India crept up on me, I brewed pots of sweet masala chai and listened to my favourite Bollywood music and burned nag champa incense and dreamt of the wild adventures I’ll eventually have in the Indian Himalayas when this life pause is over. And yes, I also spent time leafing through the pages of Make a Living Living to find the India tales tucked away in there. It helped.
Films, books and podcasts are other things we can ‘pack’ for these mental journeys around the globe. Over the past week I’ve escaped to 18th-century Qing dynasty China while watching Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, northern India via Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, and Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan during The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Diving into transportive travel podcasts like Conde Nast Traveller’s Women Who Travel and Travel With Rick Steves has also proven to be a wonderful escape portal. I’ve spent time ‘travelling’ via forgotten coffee table books, to Africa via Peter Beard’s stunning photographs, and India through Steve McCurry’s. I’ve also been dipping into Paul Bowles’s Travels, Collected Writing, 1950-93, covering tales from Morocco to Kenya, Thailand to Sri Lanka and beyond, and Leigh Ann Henion’s Phenomenal, a Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World, which whisks the reader away to Mexico to witness the great monarch butterfly migration, to Venezuela to see their notorious lightning storms, and Hawai’i to climb active volcanoes.
Mood boarding is another fun way I’ve found to mind travel, grabbing a stack of old magazines, some scissors and glue and a bunch of coloured pencils, as well as found objects like coins, flowers and feathers, and cutting and pasting my way to a faraway land. It’s a way of immersing yourself with a place in a tactile way (I explain in further in one of the eight creativity-stoking exercises peppered throughout Make a Living Living), and could even prove a useful starting point for organising your next journey when we’re all ready to take flight again.
Some of the best ‘adventures’ I’ve taken since this all started, though, have been while sitting still. Simply sitting and listening to the sound of my breath in my body has allowed me to not only accept the situation just as it is, and to transform fear into curiosity and creative thinking, but also to cut through the noise and find fresh time and energy to share with those closest to me.
Home meditations and yoga classes via YogaGlo.com have been pulling me out of catastrophic thinking, as have listening to podcasts like Ten Percent Happier by Dan Harris, a practical deep-dive into mindfulness and Buddhism aimed at ambitious modern listeners, and those by Buddhist teacher Tara Brach. These tools have opened up potent periods of stillness and clarity in my days that have made me realise that the greatest adventure any of us might hope to take right now, or perhaps ever, is that of going nowhere at all.
The word collage describes both the technique and the resulting work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric and other ephemera are arranged and stuck down onto a supporting surface. With roots in the early twentieth century Dadaism movement, collaging was popularised by famous artists like Man Ray and Hannah Höch. It has since evolved into a lasting art form that can be found everywhere from teen girls’ bedroom walls to the mood boards that inspire the new collections of illustrious fashion houses.
What do I need to get start a collage?
A collage party is the perfect feel-good activity regardless of whether you are gathered at the same kitchen table or video chatting from afar. The beauty of collage is that you probably already have enough material laying around the house — old magazines, family photos, wrapping paper, newspaper clippings, food packaging.
You can organise a virtual collage party with your friends on video platforms like Zoom or Houseparty. With some good tunes in the background and a cup of tea (or glass of wine!) by your side, it won’t be long before you’re all lost in the bizarre world of collage.
If you’re staying home with young artists, collage is the perfect way to occupy an afternoon. With a bit of help with the scissors, little hands will love choosing their images and getting messy with the glue.
Trees are one of humanity’s most constant and most varied companions. From India’s sacred banyan tree to the fragrant cedar of Lebanon, they offer us sanctuary and inspiration – not to mention the raw materials for everything from aspirin to maple syrup.
Jonathan Drori’s bestselling book, Around the World in 80 Trees, is now available in paperback. In this extract, we take a closer look at something local, the Jarrah, and then journey to Iran to hear about the origins of the pomegranate.
Eucalyptus marginata, Western Australia
Jarrah: a name that sounds quintessentially Australian. The word comes from the Nyungar language of the continent’s far southwest. In pre-colonial times, there were millions of acres of jarrah forest on the leached soils of what is now called the Darling Plateau. It is a majestic tree, easily 40 metres (130 feet) high and its trunk 2 metres (6 feet) across, with rough, very dark-brown bark. Gloriously fragrant flowers, miniature white starbursts, festoon the tree in clusters of ten or so, attracting bees, which make a distinctively malty, caramel-flavoured honey from its nectar. Jarrah is the linchpin of an important and complex forest ecosystem, home to unspeakably cute marsupials with names to delight any Scrabble player: the numbat, the potoroo, the quoll and the quenda.
Jarrah trees are long-lived – at least 500 years and up to a millennium or more – if they get the chance. British colonists quickly saw the value in the rich red jarrah wood, which was immensely strong and resistant to rot, insects, wind and water. It was eagerly taken up for shipbuilding and harbour pilings. When convicts arrived en masse from 1850, the fl ood of cheap labour meant that jarrah could be exported across the British Empire to feed its insatiable appetite for railway sleepers and other durable infrastructure such as telegraph poles, wharves and even tea sheds. A network of steam-powered sawmills and railways sprang up to extract the timber.
On the other side of the world, Londoners were trying to work out what to use to pave their roads, which by the 1880s were hectic with horsedrawn traffic. Stone blocks and cobblestones were deployed on substantial sections of main roads, but they were expensive and caused horses to slip and skitter in the city’s frequent rain. Tarmac, known then as macadam, would still need another few decades of development before it was robust enough. Then there was wood. Softwood deal and pine paving from the Baltic had advantages over stone: it was much quieter, more easily swept and kinder to horses’ hooves. But those woods wore and rotted quickly, and would soak up the swill of equine urine and ordure and, under pressure from a heavy wheel, squirt it out at passers-by. Unsurprisingly, then, when jarrah wood was exhibited in 1886 at the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in London and advertised as a durable paving material, there was immediate interest. It turned out to be extraordinarily hardwearing, losing only 3 millimetres (1∕8 inch) a year on busy roads. Lasting decades and blessedly non-porous, it was popular with man and beast alike. By 1897, despite the huge shipping costs and distance, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) of London’s busiest and swankiest streets had been clad in Australian jarrah wood – millions and millions of blocks, mostly laid over concrete. Back in Australia, the huge demand spawned many competing and unregulated jarrah-wood companies. Competitors repeatedly dropped their prices to gain orders, to the point that in 1900 Australian jarrah was being sold in England for less than vastly inferior woods brought from nearby Sweden. It was a lucrative but ludicrously unsustainable business; the forests could never withstand such rapacious exploitation. Despite the rapid forest loss, it wasn’t until the end of World War I that laws were introduced to manage more sensibly the trees that remained. And while asphalt replaced wooden paving blocks soon afterwards, the demand for jarrah timber for construction work never went away.
Aside from a few spectacular protected areas, most of the jarrah forests are gone now, felled for timber or to make way for agriculture and mining. What is left is at risk from global warming and the cascade of complex changes that come with it. The fungus-like organism Phytophthora cinnamomi is causing deadly dieback, and in summer there are increasingly frequent droughts and heatwaves. The original unbridled exploitation of jarrah and the depletion of its fragile ecosystem coincided with the demise of Nyungar culture. The remaining jarrah is again in danger, this time from climate change, to which we all contribute and by which all cultures are threatened.
Punica granatum, Iran
Pomegranates feature frequently in writings from ancient Egypt and classical Greece, in the Old Testament and Babylonian Talmud, and in the Qur’an. Their abundance of seeds and juice consistently link the fruit to fertility. The ancestors of the cultivated pomegranate grew several thousand years ago in arid, hilly regions between Iran and northern India, and today’s cultivars still prefer hot days and cool nights. Small, many-branched trees of 5–12 metres (16–40 feet), with shiny leaves of deep green, they are long-lived, perhaps to 200 years. Pomegranate flowers are a sight to behold. Distinctive calyxes, protective layers around the base of each flower, form sturdy funnels from which crumpled petals burst exuberantly in lurid shades of scarlet and crimson.
Pomegranate fruit range in colour from yellow with a blush of pink to burnished rose or even maroon. They have a tough, leathery skin, ensuring the fruit last well after picking; historically, they were a refreshment taken on long journeys. Inside, held within a spongy cream membrane, are hundreds of seeds, each within a juicy sarcotesta (a swollen seed coat), ranging from translucent pink to deep purple. The turgid grains interlock satisfyingly with one another – a triumph of efficient packing – and the juice within each one is delectably sweet, tart and mildly astringent. These are ample compensations for the dry woodiness of the seeds and the dilemma, for some, of whether to spit or swallow.
While fresh pomegranate fruit, juice and cordials are widely available from the western Mediterranean to south Asia, the Iranians have truly embraced pomegranate culture. Specialist stalls stock juice from different cultivars. Mounds of seeds – fresh, dried or frozen – are ready to be sprinkled on top of juice or ice cream, sometimes with a pinch of thyme. In autumn, fresh juice is boiled until it thickens into dark-brown molasses, a key ingredient of khoresht fesenjan, a chicken and walnut stew. And of course, Tehran has the requisite annual pomegranate festival.
Pomegranates have a reputation for health benefits. Traditional uses for diarrhoea, dysentery and intestinal parasites are long established, and the fruit contains antioxidants that are likely to be beneficial; some gung-ho anti-cancer and anti-ageing claims, however, require better evidence. But perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss the psychological benefits of a fruit whose consumption requires our undivided attention.
Jonathan Drori is a Trustee of The Woodland Trust and The Eden Project, an Ambassador for the WWF and was for nine years a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Zoological Society of London, and a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. In 2006 he was made CBE. You can read his full biography here or listen to his TED talks here.